|Let me save you some time.|
It doesn't quite live up the the name.
Nothing could ever live up to the name.
Philip Griffiths, your standard-issue tall-bronzed-Kiwi-sheep-farmer, is having a miserable day. He's 13,000 miles from home and tasked with keeping the expectations of every flibberty-gibbet London lass looking to emigrate nice and manageable. What doesn't help? Headlines like this:
AN ASTOUNDING SURPLUS OF ELIGIBLE
BACHELORS IN NEW ZEALAND
Marty Reddington (Martha Mary) has had her emigration papers in for more than a year but has packed none of the emotional baggage that Philip is carrying around. She just popped up the Commonwealth Mile with her besties so that they could reassure themselves that they--really and truly--don't mind leaving everything near and dear to them. It's just her bad luck that Philip overhears her silly joke and unleashes his full fury, branding her a fortune hunter. Shed a tear for Marty. She is a sweet little bunny hopping across the darkened interstate highway of his heart.
Good thing that she will never see him again.
Her heart must have dropped right through her sensible deck shoes when she sees that he's actually on her departing ship. Do you know how long it takes to travel from England to New Zealand by ship? Eight weeks, y'all. Eight weeks. And Liaison Officer Grumpy-Pants is going to be there for every nautical mile.
This is the part of the review where I tell you that I suspect Bachelors Galore was commissioned by the New Zealand Chamber of Commerce (or its Kiwi equivalent). Essie Summers is OUR Liaison Officer as she feeds us little tips and tidbits about adjusting to life in NZ. What to expect shipboard? Check. Maori pronunciation guide? Check. Traffic regulations? Check. Farming habits? Check. Great swaths of this book only make sense if you realize that Essie was educating people who only had the vaguest ideas about New Zealand. I mean, The Lord of the Rings hadn't even been filmed yet. Dark days, indeed.
|Now everyone knows that the islands are ruled |
by a jewelry-obsessed, all-seeing eye.
At one of the social dances, she wears a lilac dress associated with a broken engagement because, when one is a London typist, one can't afford gestures like lighting semi-formal ballgowns on fire. Still, she looks beautiful and knows it and, moreover, begins to weave some dreams about a certain Liaison Officer, wishing his lips would liaison with hers, maybe. Philip is nothing if not punctilious in his duty.
No use denying that he is shaken by the kiss. She is too. And in an atmosphere like that, it might be good to drop the pretense of cynicism and do a little plain dealing of the sort even a 5th grader can manage. ("I like you. Do you like me too? Check yes or no.")
Instead, he is insulting. "You see?" he said, and his voice was harsh. "Even anyone forewarned and forearmed as I was can be bowled over by a girl in a lilac frock, under a tropical moon..." Go ahead, moron. Blame the moon and the frock and Marty's impressive powers of attraction. Tell her she should have gone on a better class of ship to catch a richer class of man...
|"You, sir, are no Muir Buchanan!"|
But she's not made of iron and she finally allows herself to fall to pieces when she gets to her room. She rips the dress from her body, balls it up and flings it out of the porthole where, presumably, it will sink into the Mariana Trench of Pathos.
They might be sailing through the Caribbean but it's icebergs, right ahead. Somewhere in here she owns up to his ideas of her. If he thinks she's hunting for deep pockets, then that's what she'll admit to. In Panama, the padre asks her a favor. Will she go with Philip on a pilgrimage, of sorts? His father is buried there and...
Well, yes. You'd do that even for someone you hated and Marty doesn't hate Philip. She's not sure what she feels about him. She finds out that his mother left his father. Mommy Dearest still lives in California with her new husband, having abandoned Philip when he was 11. This is a lot to take in.
(As an Oregonian, I was bred with an in-born hostility to all things California (always excepting my dearest husband!) so I am already super mad at his mom. Oh Philip, you poor baby!)
As they steam into Wellington Harbor, Marty receives her two-year work assignment. Finally, she can get away from the watchful eyes of Philip Griffiths. What's that you say? She's assigned to the farm NEXT DOOR? And she'll be driving down to the station with the admittedly hot raspberry seed that has been stuck in her wisdom tooth for months now?
Unfortunately, the distance between his farm and the Logie farm (her assignment) is small. Worse, Len and Joy Logie have been in a calamitous car smash. (Someday in the distant future, I imagine our literary history will be cataloged by an alien race and when they get to mid-century Mills & Boon, they'll decide to pass on conquering the peoples of Earth. They have had enough.) When Philip decides that Marty will be worse than useless taking over a remote sheep station and the care of the children of the house, she makes him drive her there anyway. This is her responsibility and, by gum, she is not going to shift it off to someone else.
For a while, everything goes perfectly. The children are nurtured, the house is cleaned, meals of great nutritional value are made and consumed. And then all hell breaks loose. Maybe I should say it's 'turned loose'. Marty, not a farm girl, lets the cows into a paddock of green clover where they eat their heads off and develop 'bloat' which is not something you can solve with a bowl of Marionberry Yoplait. (Gah.) In the midst of this gas-tastrophe, the way-loaded and conveniently unattached vet with the amiable mother and rich family history (Morgan Hervington-Blair of THE Hervington-Blairs) comes to help and casts an eye on our distressed heroine.
|If this was a Harlequin Presents book, I would be getting a little nervous. |
No one is supposed to out-Alpha the Alpha who wins the hand of the fair maiden.
Is there anything crappier than being the potential murderess of fluffy ducklings? I'm glad you asked. Into this Domestic Crisis of Confidence comes strolling terrifyingly gorgeous ex-flame and former fiancee Louise Morgan (dun, Dun, DUH!). She flashes her massive wedding ring, eyerolls our Pitiful Dislocated British Girl and oozes sympathy all over Philip for having to put up with someone who's obviously stupid.
It is alright, however. Marty rallies her spirits, eventually welcomes Len and Joy back to their well-tended home and well-adjusted children and then begins to lay waste to the surrounding countryside, collecting the interest of every man in the district.
| All those bachelors? There are galore of them. |
That's what she hugs on those lonely nights--the knowledge that, if he has been unkind (prodding her always to deny she is on the lookout for a wealthy husband and a life of ease), she has had the perfect retort every time. The mask hasn't slipped. Her cold dignity is intact.
As Morgan Hervington-Blair of THE Hervington-Blairs gets a bit more serious, Marty is taken up by Noel West--the biggest fish circling the tank. He's got all his original hair and teeth, an insane amount of money and he's hiding a secret heart-ache. The man could use a companionable escort and she...well, she could too. Marty can't risk getting paired up with Philip (too many people are quick to throw her at his head) and doesn't want to hurt Morgan. So...Noel it is.
|Noel was the Godzilla of Alphas.|
Stiffly, she declines to let him wipe his conscience clean with a bit of money but he is terribly hurt behind that Stoic Face. Marty is slipping away from him and there is nothing he can do about it...or is there? Like a timid first-time visitor to the casino dithering over the roulette table and then cautiously laying down a single chip on red, he offers her a semi-proposal and a promise of sharing a conjugal bed. Would Marty mind joining forces? They'd both be wise to each other's motives.
It's easy to take this as the insult it appears to be. But consider: Philip, the product of a failed union which dissolved in part because of money and an engagement that gave up the ghost for similar reasons, still can't resist her. He loves her too much and now he'll take her on any terms at all. As bet-hedging as it appears, he's offering to ruin himself for her.
But Marty isn't going to take anyone who isn't shoving all their chips in on 23 red like a madman. Particularly not one who isn't left as weak-kneed about the prospect of sharing the confines of a double bed as she is. She'll stick to the safe company of Noel if she can't get what she wants. As a chaser, she suggests he stop running after married women.
Finally, the Logies and Phillip all go on vacation together which makes me really concerned that all their cows will be milked properly. Marty and Philip ease into each other's company in a way that leads her to hope that maybe the icebergs are thawing as simple family picnics and grubbing around at the lakeside are activities calculated to warm even the most Grinch-i-est of hearts.
Louise and her Pack of Dissipated Drunks (as well as her amiable, balding, gazillionaire husband) shows up to rain fire and destruction all over moonlit hand-holding and whispered confessions. In an aside I just don't have time to go into, Marty acts as Tod the Troubled Tycoon's agony aunt and tells him that all Louise really needs is a firm hand and that he should stop measuring himself against Philip who has "...got everything...magnificent shoulders, a powerful jawline, attractive, clean cut features...the real picture of a bronzed colonial...the looks of a Greek god..."
|After that description, |
even Tod the Tubby Trillionaire was fanning himself.
Back at the farm, several plots intersect and, in the interest of time I will bullet point them:
- Noel the Brooding Billionaire reunites with his lost love (Good thing Marty turned his "Let's be Sad Together" proposal down!) and they make a date to be married.
- Tod loses all his money. This would be calamitous but Louise, instead of crawling back to the fetid swamp that curated her winning personality, grows a spine and, as a phoenix rising from the ashes of her life, becomes a really cracking wife. Turns out she loves Tod. Financial Ruin is like a new Dior dress and she wears it wonderfully.
- News of Noel's Nuptials leaks in the community.
- A tractor accident at another farm sends Marty riding pell-mell across the paddocks to properly tourniquet a hemorrhage.
Philip and all the Logie's sort of assume that her sorrow over Noel has sent her riding dangerously into the mountains and when she returns, covered in blood and exhausted, everyone is thrilled she's alive but quick to assume that she was gripped by Paroxysms of Grief.
Those were the wrong paroxysms to be worried about. Rage Paroxysms are much worse. When she gets to the bottom of Philip's worry she lays into him about how those things she said at New Zealand House were all a silly joke and that she would never marry anyone for money and that she not only knew about Noel's new wife, but acted as her bridesmaid.
Philip is nothing if not poorly timed. As soon as he finds out she doesn't love Noel, he proposes.
|Marty shoots first.|
It goes poorly. He leaves and Marty and Joy have the sort of air-clearing talk everybody should have had 120 pages ago. Marty loves Philip but his money will always stand between them. "What money, girlfriend?" asks Joy. "Dude is so poor he's still living in half a house." Oh thank heavens, Marty thinks. I'll just ride breakneck over to his farm right now.
Thankfully, everyone can just stay put where they are. Philip is an eavesdropper who only ever seems to hear good of himself. He makes another proposal of marriage and, this time, she accepts.
|Philip laid all his worldly goods at her feet...|
several of them were slimy baby lambs.
Rating: A Flash Flood (7/10). Bachelors Galore is a solid effort that sometimes veers into Informational Pamphlet territory. I'm not going to lie, some of that information was really interesting but it tended to lay there like a cow patty--enormously useful but you'll have to step carefully around it to get where you're going. I liked Philip--he'd had a rough first impression of Marty that was perfectly calculated to jab all of his insecurities in the eye with a sharp stick--but I wished that he had been less relentlessly baiting. His only tool for getting what he wants is to throw his accusation at her head so that MAYBE she'll deny it. Of course, when he baits Marty, that makes her dig in even more firmly.
Marty is hard-working (that should have been his first clue that she was not out for money), resourceful and perfect for being a farmer's wife. About halfway through the book I kept getting annoyed for her sake. She just gave up everything she holds dear and left it 13,000 miles away you guys! (And if there's nothing she felt bad about leaving, so much the worse. That's super tragic.) If it were me, I'd need three solid months of Snuggling and Ego Massage. I assume Philip will build a room just for that sort of thing in his unfinished house.
Essie did a fantastic thing when she piled a lot of good works on top of both their characters so that I wasn't ever willing to dust my hands of them. They both pitch in to help the Logies out of the Car Smash Mess and seem in their element when they're helping out. Also, the way she goes on and on about his looks tell me that prospects for Satisfactory Conjugal Relations are good.
Location: Near Rakaia on the Canterbury Plains
The Misunderstanding: He thinks she is out to snag a husband with money. She thinks he is possibly having an affair with a married woman.